Donald Keith Merchant, 90, of Dallas, Ga., and formerly of Hagerstown and Cambridge, Md., died Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2012.
Born Dec. 3, 1921, in Uvilla, W.Va., he was the last surviving child of the late Oliver Marion and Agnes May (Engle) Merchant.
He grew up on a farm during the days of horse farming and the Great Depression. He was an early member of the West Virginia 4-H clubs. He played football for and graduated from Shepherdstown High School, where he met and married his first wife, Frances "Kitty" (Kelly) Merchant. He went on to attend Shepherd College.
He was hired by Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corp. of Hagerstown in its experimental department. This was interrupted by military service. Donald served with the U.S. Army Headquarters Co., 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Division in Battalion Intelligence in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was charged with collecting intelligence behind enemy lines. The 34th Division participated in six major Army campaigns in North Africa and Italy, and is credited with amassing 517 days of front-line combat, more than any other U.S. division. The division took the most enemy-defended hills of any division in the European Theater, and its soldiers were some of the most highly decorated.
He returned to Fairchild after the war and was offered a position with the Smithsonian Institution's developing National Air and Space Museum. He took charge of the Restoration and Preservation Center, now called the Paul Garber Center, in Silver Hill, Md. The restoration center restored various aircraft, ranging from Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis to John Glenn's Mercury capsule, prior to the opening of the current National Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Donald was a Boy Scout leader of Troop 12 in Hagerstown; a member of St. John's Episcopal Church; a member of Potomac Playmakers, where he helped build all of the sets for the plays during his tenure; and a member of Beaver Creek Country Club, where he built the starting boxes for the swim teams.
Donald resettled in Cambridge with his second wife, Patricia (Talbert) Merchant. While in Cambridge, he started his own computer business, taught computer classes for Chesapeake College, worked for Airpax Corp., where he developed four patents, and was very involved in Dorchester County politics. He was a licensed private pilot, and owned and flew antique airplanes with the Potomac Antique Aero Squadron. After the passing of his wife, he moved back to Hagerstown, and then to Dallas, Ga., with his daughter and son-in-law.
He did all of his own gardening, canning, cooking and baking. He wrote columns and articles for industry newspapers, and had started a book on his long and illustrious life.
Donald is survived by daughters, Shirley J. (Robert) Pike of Dallas, Donna K. Anderson of Boonsboro, Md., and Robin A. (Douglas) Spickler of Hagerstown; son, David M. Merchant of Boonsboro; daughter-in-law, Charlotte (White) Merchant of Marietta, Ga.; brother-in-law, Matthew Talbert of Edgewater, Md.; and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by son, J. Keith Merchant of Marietta; second wife, Patricia Alice (Talbert) Merchant; first wife, Frances "Kitty" Kelly Edmonds; sister, Marian E. Myers; and brothers, I. David Merchant, Oliver P. Merchant, J. William Merchant, Robert E. Merchant and infant brother, Albert Merchant.
In memory of Donald, donations may be made to The Alzheimer's Association (www.alz.org/donate).
A memorial service will be Saturday, April 28, 2012, at 1 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 101 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown.
Donald K. Merchant, 90
DEC. 3, 1921-FEB. 22, 2012